Gratias agimus omnipotenti Deo, qui nobis de transitoriis eterna de temporalibus perpetua mereari concessit.
[We give thanks to Almighty God, who has allowed us to earn eternal things with transitory ones, and perpetual things with temporal ones.]
One of the most characteristic forms of medieval exchange was the ‘purchase of paradise’, the process by which people sought to invest their earthly wealth to secure eternal salvation. The most substantial form of this commerce was the endowment of churches by donors with capital assets in land and lordship. Yet this exchange was not merely of the material for the spiritual: as the words of the charter quoted above show, this was just as much a matter of temporality. Transitory things bound by the time of this world were converted into timeless eternal bliss. Indeed the reuniting of body and soul at the Last Judgement meant that the difference in temporality was more marked than that of materiality. The words used to denote this-worldliness often referenced time rather than matter. This world was ‘secular’, defined by its era rather than its materiality. In a curious mismatch of opposites, ‘spiritual’, denoting non-physicality, was routinely contrasted with either ‘secular’ or ‘temporal’, whether persons, life, services, property, powers, courts, judges, ministers, and so on. Thus, materiality and temporality, space and time, were inseparable, and time played an essential role in the theory and practice of securing salvation.
The ‘happy commerce’ of material-for-spiritual in practice involved a series of stages of conversion, in all of which temporality played a central role. On earth, ‘perpetual’ capital was converted into time-bound income; this supported spiritual activities done in and through time, lineally and cyclically, in various forms of good works and prayers. These suffrages then accumulated credit both on earth – against the penitential tariff – and increasingly for souls after death, as ideas about post-mortem purgation were elaborated. There was time in Purgatory, but it ran differently from that on earth; and there were other temporalities in the afterlife, both in proto-hell and the earthly paradise where, respectively, the damned and the saved (including the fully purged) awaited reunification with their bodies. At the binary end of the process time was abolished in the eternity of heaven and hell.